Ricky Horne Jr The Roots Erykah Badu J Dilla Tribute SQUARE
Ricky Horne Jr The Roots Erykah Badu J Dilla Tribute SQUARE

Erykah Badu & The Roots Pay Tribute To J Dilla In Los Angeles [Exclusive Photos + Recap]

Last Saturday night saw Erykah Badu, The Roots and a cadre of special guests take control of Los Angeles and command of the BET Experience weekend as they paid tribute to the legendary producer J Dilla, blazing through an unforgettable setlist of hip-hop beats re-contextualized into thunderous live compositions. And while Okayplayer seized the opportunity to send two lucky fans to the sold-out show, we ourselves were largely stuck, like many, many other music fanatics, stuck in another time zone, musing on just what sort of magic was taking place at Club Nokia.

But now we have the full picture (make that pictures) thanks to photographer Ricky Horne Jr., who attended the show both as a working shutterbug and avid fan of Dilla, Badu and the legendary Roots crew. Horne was kind enough to share a few of his amazing shots from the evening, which included surprise appearances from Busta Rhymes and Bilal. Horne shared his extended review of the evening, which you can read in full below:

The Roots and Erykah Badu paying tribute to Dilla was, quite frankly the best show I’ve ever seen. Throughout my life, music has firmly become my conduit for processing emotion; I don’t drink or smoke, and so prayer, music and fresh air is all I have. When Jay Dee was in his prime, I rocked to plenty of his music unaware, but he was always supplementing my mind like vitamins in my adolescent listening diet.

The show was a tribute in the truest sense. Everyone on that stage seemed to be in service to Dilla’s spirit. There were no egos and no grandstanding--just an outpouring of love. Fleeting melancholy tinges were welcome in my eyes, as they expressed the entire room's collective regret at Dilla’s absence. I’ve lost friends early and this show offered me plenty of prodding to express gratitude for the moments I was able to share with them. Inside, a part of found familiarity in their set. As a child of the church I remember celebrating a loved one being in a better place.

Across the night's setlist, some of Dilla's best-known hits were absent. I often find myself wishing for more album cuts, and this show afforded that. Hearing “Dear God” played live featuring Bilal Oliver was transcendent, and seemed meant for just this night. The song wasn’t wasn’t a "tight" rendition, but full of life as it should have been. Even a brief moment of feedback in the microphones seemed to fit, like some kind of response from on high. As I can recall, Bilal didn’t end the song with, “But God, I know you have your reasons,” signifying the crew’s firm discordance with Dilla’s passing.

As Busta Rhymes's mic repeatedly malfunctioned, the MC seemed particularly annoyed that he couldn’t speak to his late friend in the way he wanted to. But the filmmaker in me saw it as added drama--there was an urgency, a purpose that was intended, and any resistance to it just seemed to make reaching a resolution that much more gratifying. When Busta shared a story about recording with Dilla and being ashamed to smoke in front of Ma Dukes, I pictured a scene that I wished I could have shot myself.

Slum Village received a great response from the crowd, as did L.A.’s own Pharcyde, ending their set with "Passing Me By," which reminded everyone that it has the most sing-along-able-quotable verses in hip-hop history.

I had a huge emotional reaction to seeing Lauryn Hill in the flesh--it felt like photographing a mythic apparation. Her life seems so much like one on an alternative plane, rightly or wrongly. She began with "Lost Ones," which is such a great song for The Roots to play, before moving on to "Ex-Factor," flipped over a brand new beat. "Doo Wop (That Thing)" concluded her set, and she was vibrant within it, and the crowd enjoyed it accordingly.

Miss Hill’s presence was announced before she was ready to enter, which led to my personal pinnacle of the night. As a photographer at a music show in 2015, you are only allowed to shoot the first two songs of each performer’s set. For that time, we were placed in the pit in front of the stage and once those songs are concluded we are ushered off into the wings. Well in this case, because Ms. Hill wasn’t ready, we were stuck in the pit in the front row while Erykah Badu returned out to the stage. We weren’t allowed to take pictures anymore, and so there I sat, five feet away from Queen Latifah, Tyrese and Anthony Hamilton as she and The Roots drifted into into “Didn’t Cha Know.” I just about lost it as I was blessed with the opportunity to forget about exposure, ISO, depth of field and the rule of thirds and just listen.

View more of Ricky Horne Jr.'s work on his website. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.